Stratford 2018 Update #1

It’s here-the first round of Nerd Cactus Stratford reviews for 2018!!!

So far, the verdict is “amazing with a heavy smattering of fun.” Of course, it will get much darker from here…

See, we started with the light, frothy shows, but we’re about to dive into the heavy stuff. Yesterday we saw The Music Man and The Tempest (incidentally, the two shows I covered in our pre-Stratford ramp up). Both were wonderful, high-quality, visually stunning shows (as expected) and both were over too quickly. (Which is probably why we thought today was still Tuesday?)

 

The Music Man

To begin, let’s take a closer look at Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. As I mentioned, this musical is nothing if not charming, and it’s so full of heart, joy, and sticky, sappy nostalgia that even the most miserable of misers can’t help but feel their hearts melt.

Donna Feore’s direction is solid, but it’s her choreography that truly shines. Her high-energy approach to numbers like “Shipoopi,” “76 Trombones,” and even “Marian the Librarian” is breathtaking. As a matter of fact, just watching “76 Trombones,” left me exhausted. I felt winded in the best way ever. Seriously. And kudos to Devon Michel Brown for performing 4 backflips and a front flip over the course of the show.

The cast is led by Daren A. Herbert and Danielle Wade in the roles of Harold Hill and Marian Paroo, but the brilliant supporting cast doesn’t really need to be led. There is so much kinetic energy onstage that it is impossible to pick out a “weak link.” The ensemble of agile dancers consistently hams it up, but if there’s any place for “golly gee” smiles, this is it. And it works.

Herbert is loveable yet sly and Wade’s rich soprano has surprising depth even in her highest register. Steve Ross and Blythe Wilson as Mayor Shinn and his eccentric wife Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn are the perfect comedic duo, providing unexpected laughs and well-timed schtick that doesn’t actually feel “schticky.”

All told, we were all smiles from start to finish and loved pretty much everything about this production. We were hardpressed to find something that didn’t play well or that we downright disliked. The cast was well-balanced, the costumes were beautiful, the music was brilliant, and the choreography was engaging. Oh, and the horse in “The Wells Fargo Wagon” was a piece of theatre magic that actually confused us into thinking there was a live horse on stage. (Albeit for a very brief minute.)

 

The Tempest

Our Tuesday evening show was Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In Stratford’s version, Prospero was presented as a woman, brilliantly performed by Martha Henry. I think Martha Henry is one of the most convincing Shakespearean actors I have ever seen on stage. I understood every line of her dialogue. Beyond Shakespeare’s words, Henry brought deliberate inflection, movement, action, and subtext to the stage in spades.

The other standout in this cast was undeniably Andre Morin’s Ariel. Clad in costuming that alludes to his previous sentence trapped in a tree, his take on the spirit was nimble and efficient. Rather than play the character as mischievous or brooding, Morin tempered his longing for freedom with a genuine concern for his mistress and a need to please.

Beyond the strength of the cast and their excellent execution of Antoni Cimolino’s direction, The Tempest dazzles with its lighting design and costume design. From floating planets to shimmering lights encompassed in the gnarled roots of Prospero’s cell, the lighting in this show is pretty magical. And the costuming was just gorgeous. From Juno’s peacock costume to Caliban’s incredible half-fish deformity and Ariel’s outfit of bark, the stage was filled with the fantastic. But my favorite thing is ever is Prospero’s magic robe which incorporates pieces of the robes worn by every other Prospero in the Stratford Festival’s history. Beyond that, it contains material from the dress Martha Henry wore when she played Miranda during the 1962 festival season as well as pieces of the original tent in which Stratford’s plays were first performed. How cool is that??

That’s all for now! Coriolanus is on the agenda for tonight and we’ll see An Ideal Husband and To Kill a Mockingbird tomorrow, so expect more soon!

-A

 

 

 

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Boozy Plays: The Tempest

To thee and thy company I bid a hearty welcome.

-The Tempest

Hello, and welcome! ‘Tis time for a little Shakespeare-inspired boozin’.

So, something just occurred to me: in all our years of Boozy Books/Plays and attending the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, C and I have never partaken in any of the drinks we recommend during our viewings. We didn’t even play the Hamlet drinking game. (You know the one… Take a shot every time someone dies? Yes, you do.) Anyway, despite being pretty consistent enablers, we are very bad boozers.

The problem is that we want to remember and engage in the experience of the play. Getting drunk is decidedly hindering in that respect. Maybe if we rush a second viewing of Coriolanus we can discuss having a few glasses of Syrah. (Except C isn’t a wine drinker… That’s ok, I’ll drink hers.)

Anyway, tangent aside, it’s time to dive into The Tempest.

I’ve mentioned this before but did you know that Teller (of Penn and Teller) choreographed the magic for a production of The Tempest in 2014? Also, Tom Waits did the music for that production. And the acrobatics were by Pilobolus. I’m not saying I don’t foresee excellence from the Stratford production, but damn. They better step it up, amiright? (I’m so kidding. I just needed a place to create a backlink to one of our older posts. Because SEO.)

So, yes, if it isn’t already apparent, magic and music are a big deal in The Tempest. I covered that in Monday’s post so I won’t linger on that point any longer. By now, you get it. One hopes.

The Tempest opens with a storm – the eponymous tempest – and some quick n’ dirty exposition. Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded on an island for 12 years. Why? Because Prospero was a Duke and his brother was a Dick. You know, ye olde jealous sibling trope.

While on his lonely island, Prospero came to command a “spirit” named Ariel and Caliban, the deformed son of an evil (albeit dead) witch. To be honest, most of Prospero’s magic seems to lie in his control of these characters. Ariel, in particular, handles much of the actual hocus pocus (things like creating the storm, putting people to sleep with magical sleepytime music, and scaring said people by appearing as an angry harpy). Both of these characters are locked in servitude to Prospero, and long for freedom. But they’re not portrayed as human, so does anyone care? Yes. Shakespeare cares.

In fact, The Tempest is thought to have been a commentary on colonialism, presenting the complex and problematic relationship of the “well-meaning” and “much advanced” colonizer and the “savage” colonized. Prospero has not only stolen Caliban’s rulership of the island, but he has also leveraged his rescue of Ariel to keep the spirit in his employ with the carrot of freedom always dangling just out of reach. Of course, Ariel is eventually promised his freedom as the play wraps up, but it’s never exactly clear what Caliban’s fate is. Is he left on the island to take his rightful place as ruler, or is he taken back to Naples to become a sideshow novelty? One hopes the former.

As for plot, there are three. Because interweaving stories was Shakespeare’s specialty (and a great way to appeal to as many people in the audience as possible). In one, we have the romantic plotline. Prospero encourages the match between his daughter and Ferdinand, prince of Naples. The goal is to reinstate his daughter into her rightful place as a noble. Plot number two is the rise and fall of Caliban’s doomed coup. He also discovers alcohol and falls in love(?) with Stephano and Trinculo. Plot three is Antonio and Sebastian’s plan to kill King Alonso and his advisor, Gonzalo.

The play ends with an implied wedding, forgiveness, and freedom (for Ariel at least). Prospero, finally on his way back to civilization, has no further need of magic, so he breaks his staff and renounces his powers. I mean, I wouldn’t… but you do you Prospero.

And, now, a drink! I feel that this needs something tropical with a chunk of dry ice. It’s a little on the nose, but I make no apologies. So, the drink to drink in this case is something called “rock out with your conch out,” which is just a crazy ridiculous beautiful-looking cocktail served in a freakin’ conch shell. It’s made with a blend of rums, pineapple, pomegranate, grapefruit, lime, lemon, and falernum. And a chunk of dry ice to create that magical fog.

Enjoy!

A

The Tempest: Magic, Manipulation, and Music

Hey there! Welcome to today’s exploration of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

*But first, let me give you a brief rundown of the filmed versions of The Music Man. (This was supposed to go up on Saturday, but a 9 mile hike kinda put a damper on productivity.)

There’s no more definitive version of The Music Man than the 1962 film starring Robert Preston. I also alluded to the 2003 tv-movie version in my earlier Music Man post, and it’s certainly a gem with stars like Matthew Broderick, Kristen Chenoweth, Molly Shannon, and Victor Garber.

You can also watch an absurd animated version of Shipoopi, courtesy of Family Guy.

Ok, that’s done. Now, on to the magic, manipulation, and music of The Tempest.

Written between 1610 and 1611, The Tempest is thought to be the last play Shakespeare wrote on his own. It’s also rather different from his earlier works in its overall style. More than any other one of Shakespeare’s works, The Tempest follows a neoclassical structure that is informed by the tradition of tragicomedy and the courtly masque. (Cue Ben Jonson laughing from beyond the grave.)

Interestingly, The Tempest’s use of magic is in complete opposition to the darker tones found in Macbeth and Hamlet, and returns to the whimsy found in the much earlier Midsummer Night’s Dream. Given James I’s propensity for witch hunts and his general paranoia toward the occult at this time, The Tempest is remarkable in that it doesn’t follow the “give the monarchy what they want” mentality that influenced the creation of so many of Shakespeare’s earlier plays.

That aside, the magic of The Tempest is remarkable in its usage because its only purpose is to forward a singular goal for Prospero – manipulating Antonio and Alonso, and restoring Miranda to her rightful place as a Duchess of Milan. Once Prospero sees his daughter married to Ferdinand and forgives his brother, he renounces magic. It’s as though magic is intrinsically tied to life on the island – a mere byproduct of having been deserted and a means to return to civilized life. The mischief and manipulation associated with Prospero’s magic also disperses as the play’s conclusion falls in line with the typical format of a comedy. Everything ends rather neatly as the characters return to realism (and Naples).

I think one of the aspects I’m most excited to see in Stratford’s production is the interpretation of music. The Tempest, as written, incorporates quite a bit of song. From Caliban’s drunken singing to Ariel’s magical sleepytime music, there are lots of moments in which music and magic intermingle. Stratford has always impressed me with their incorporation of music, so I’m excited to see how they handle both music and magic in this production.

That’s all for now! I’ll put together a Boozy Plays post for Friday in which I’ll explore the plot a little more deeply, and provide a pairing that’s nothing short of magical.

A

Stratfest Ramp Up 2018: The Music Man

“Ya got trouble my friends, right here in River City.”

If the above lyric is unfamiliar to you, we simply can’t be friends. Kidding. Not really.

Welcome, cactus friends, to today’s long-delayed post on The Music Man. I’ve been in Colorado for work all week so blogging kinda took a backseat to hiking up mountains and eating Indian food with my CEO. Sorry.

But I’m here now, and that’s what counts!!! And not a moment too soon since Monday is right around the corner again. (How did that happen anyway?)

I’ll be doing my write-up and my boozy pairing all in one post, so please stick around as I delve into Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.

This musical has a little of everything: romance, shenanigans, a barbershop quartet, and a con man with a heart of gold at its very center.

Written in 1957, this golden age classic never feels outdated or crusty… Which is impressive given that there’s an entire song about the arrival of the Wells Fargo wagon (which is clearly dated).

The thing that keeps The Music Man alive-even in 2018-is its nostalgic Americana. And yet, it is far from being a patriotic romp. More than anything, it leaves audiences yearning for simplicity, small town hominess, and the promise that one stranger can bring an entire town to life. Oh, and that love can turn crooks into band leaders. That’s the American dream, right?

The one and only issue I have with this musical is actually an annoyance that developed after earning my Bachelor of Music. You can’t just “think” the music and suddenly play an instrument. That’s not how it works! Even in the adorable Matthew Broderick version ABC aired in 2003, I just laugh when-in his moment of desperation-he instructs his all-boy marching band to “think.”

But it’s musical theatre, and, of course, “76 Trombones” is the most rousing anthem in the genre, because in America you can do anything.

All that being said, The Music Man is a charming, sweet, and funny musical that I’ve never once tired of. The music bounces between beautiful operatic ballads in “Goodnight My Someone” to the speak-sung patter song that is “Ya Got Trouble.” And everything in between is equally catchy and adorable. From “Pick a Little, Talk a Little” to “Marian the Librarian” and, of course, “Shipoopi,” this musical comes as close to musical perfection as one can get, in my opinion.

I’m so so so excited to see this show in Stratford because it never fails to make me smile. It’s an oldie but a goodie as they say, and I’m sure Stratford’s diverse casting will lend itself to telling a story that has always been meant for everyone-not just crusty white people.

Also, let me just say that one of the few regrets I have when looking back at my musical theatre career is that I never had the opportunity to play Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. “BALZAC.” ‘Nuff said.

Ok, time to pair this sucker. I don’t think this musical pairs well with liquor at all, but rather, lemonade. Soooo like a vodka-infused strawberry lemonade with basil? Yeah… That works. That’s the one.

A

Have a Salad and Watch a Play

Sorry I’m late, y’all. Meant to do this one this weekend, but I spent it voting and other adult-y things, so this got pushed back to Monday.

There are a number of versions of Julius Caesar out there for you to find and consume, but I’m going to recommend the three major ones. Funnily enough, there’s a lot of overlap between the three productions. Charlton Heston played Antony in two and John Gielgud played Cassius in one and Caesar in another. Only one of them is in color, but that doesn’t really mean shit when one of the black-and-white versions has Marlon Brando as a masterful Antony. It’s the version I immediately think of, actually, and may have seriously colored my mental image of Mark Antony.

I am well aware of the fact that my love for Antony is strange. It, like my love of Alexander Hamilton, is very much a reflection of one or two moments of sheer brilliance shining bright out of a sea of problematic shit. I know this, and I accept it. It is what it is.

Anyway. The first version is from 1950, which is actually the very first version of the play ever filmed in sound. Well, sort of. To save money, it was mostly filmed silently, with the actors going back later and dubbing in the dialogue and stuff. Charlton Heston was basically the only guy paid for the movie, which starred Chicago natives and was filmed in and around the city.

The second version, and the one I most heartily recommend, is the version from 1953, starring James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius, and Marlon Brando as Mark Antony. A lot of people were worried about Brando as Antony as he’d earned something of a reputation for mumbling, but after taking some advice from John Gielgud, he turned in a performance that, to me at least, has never been rivaled. Granted, I’ve never seen the play live, but Brando is Antony to me. I mean… listen to the speech.

Listen to it.

 

I mean… if you wanted to watch nothing else, watch that. It’s so good. But there’s still another version, the first one filmed in COLOR. WOO. It’s from 1970 and features Charlton Heston as Antony (again) and also has John Gielgud, this time as Caesar. It’s interesting to watch both this and the ’50 version for the Heston comparison, but Moses is no Brando, so… I still recommend 1953.

OK. That’s it for me. A is officially taking over now, and will be doing The Tempest and The Music Man. You’ll see me again in two weeks!

C

Boozy Plays: Julius Caesar

Hey, guys! Sorry this is a bit late, but… well, I guess with our new schedule, it doesn’t really matter as long as I get it done. And I will!

Is there anyone–and I mean anyone–who doesn’t know the story of Julius Caesar? If Akira Kurosawa can direct a version of Macbeth, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t collect more than a handful of people who don’t know the story of the dictator who pulled an Icarus and was stabbed twenty-three times for his trouble.

In a brief synopsis: Julius Caesar has come home from defeating Pompey, and sets himself up as a dictator (which was a somewhat defunct office from earlier in Rome’s history in which a citizen is, for a brief period, given complete control over Rome, replacing the usual consul and tribune system), though he trice refuses a crown during a parade on the Lupercal (albeit reluctantly). He also ignores a warning to ‘beware the Ides of March’, which turns out to be a bad idea. Meanwhile, Cassius is trying to convince Brutus to help them assassinate Caesar before he becomes a tyrant. This is because Brutus is the direct descendant of the founder of the Republic (kinda like Rome’s Washington, in that he lead the rebellion), and is sort of… Mr. Rome, for lack of a better phrase. Eventually, Brutus relents and they assassinate Caesar on the Ides of March (should have heeded the warning) in the Senate (not historically accurate, but this is Shakespeare, of course).

The conspirators make it clear that they have done this for the good of Rome, but Mark Antony (*heart eyes*) turns the crowd against them and drives the assassins from the city. Brutus and Cassius, the chief conspirators, prepare for war against the Second Triumvirate (Antony, Octavian, Lepidus). Caesar’s ghost appears and tells Brutus he’s gonna die at Philippi (that rhymes!), but Brutus actually wins the first battle (historically against Octavian) after Cassius kills himself. Then Antony wins the second day and Brutus kills himself. Antony pays tribute to Brutus as the noblest Roman, and he and Octavian have a bit of a spat.

So… Caesar dies, Antony is glorious, war happens, Brutus dies. There’s a ghost, a soothsayer, and (ugh) Octavian. Also the play has some damn fine lines, especially a speech that made me love Shakespeare and history all at once! I can pretend that the Antony of the play is accurate and not… slightly complimentary (well, Antony was pretty skillful in the immediate aftermath of the assassination, but it wasn’t a long-lasting bout of political acumen). Octavian isn’t in it that much. It’s great. I love it.

Now to recommend a drink! Since I went with a Shiraz last time, I want to go with a historically Roman wine for this one. The Romans had a habit of mixing their wine with water (actually, it’s more accurate to say they added wine to their water and not the other way around), so it’s actually not that intoxicating. For this particular play, I’m recommending mulsum, which is a spiced honey wine. You mix three parts water to one part red wine (something heavy), add cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (1 stick, 1 whole nutmeg, 1 tsp cloves for every 1 cup of wine), throw in some honey (4 tbsp for every cup of wine) and let sit for about a day in the fridge. Then remove the spices et voila! Mulsum! You can also warm it up if you’d like. Throw an orange slice into your cup for an added dose of delicious.

I’ll recommend versions of Julius Caesar this weekend! Obviously, Marlon Brando will feature.

C

The Muse: How Shakespeare Inspired My Love of Rome (and Vice Versa)

First of all, sorry for missing the “watch this version of the play” addition for this weekend. I was… indisposed. Coriolanus really only has one easily available version, and that is the 2011 version with Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, and Vanessa Redgrave. If you can track it down, Tom Hiddleston’s version of Coriolanus is remarkable, but that’s going to involve… internet detecting. Go forth.

Anyway. On to this week and… *fanfare*… JULIUS CAESAR.

Julius Caesar is not really my favorite play. For that, I have to admit I’m something of a Hamlet fangirl, with Much Ado About Nothing as my favorite comedy and Henry V as my favorite of the histories. But, Julius Caesar occupies a very, very special place in my heart and always–always–will.

It’s the play that got me into Shakespeare. It is also the play that got me into Roman History. And, in a way, they fed into one another. A latent love for both led me to this play, which set off a life-long love bordering on obsession. If not for my very real love of having primary sources at my fingertips, I would certainly have devoted my life to the oh-so-problematic men and women who have captured my heart. Men named Scipio and Agrippa, women named Agrippina and Fulvia, Vestal Virgins and Centurions and… *sigh*

I love Rome.

But back before the passionate love of both the Bard and SPQR, I was just a little girl who loved stories. I can’t even begin to remember the first time I heard Shakespeare quoted or a Roman mentioned. Maybe it was myth–my mother loves Greek myths and, conveniently, so did the Romans–or maybe it was seeing ruins when I was two on a family visit to Turkey (my imagination has always tended to adore old things). I couldn’t tell you. But both Rome and Shakespeare were living in my head from a very young age, latent obsessions just waiting for… something to set them to growing.

Enter: Friends, Romans, Countrymen…

Yeah. That single speech. But, you know, what a speech. What a skillful manipulation, a Masterclass in politics and rhetoric and, of course, writing. Mark Antony is… glorious in that moment. And when I read it, I fell in love. With Antony (which persists to this day, despite a greater understanding of the historical figure). With Rome in general. And with the man who wrote the speech to begin with: William Shakespeare.

I don’t think I fully understood what I was reading at the time. I can’t even fully remember if I read the whole speech at once or if it was a vague series of clips that somehow coalesced into a weird… blob of adoration. But I know it was the speech. I know because I was fifteen before I read the whole play all at once (weird, I know, but it happens). Friends, Romans, Countrymen… Lend me your ears…

It’s so marvelous. Sublime, even.

That speech turned a general awareness and admiration of Shakespeare into a real love (which made me so very popular at school…). I picked up the sonnets. I learned the famous speeches. I (tried unsuccessfully) to enjoy movie versions of the plays (I was still young, and I think maybe Branagh wasn’t the easiest start). Wishbone was still much more my speed, if you want to know about how old I was when this was going on. And I started reading the Dear America books, as well as the royal princess spin-offs (the Cleopatra one left me a bit twitterpated, I tell you), which spawned not into a huge love of historical fiction (I do dabble, though) but of history. And that love, that historical crush, on Mark Antony–spawned by the speech, remember–turned into a voracious love of all things Rome.

I even took Latin in high school instead of something really useful, like Spanish. I live in South Florida, and I do not speak Spanish. Because I took Latin. Which I also do not speak.

I guess I don’t really have anything to say that this whole thing leads to. Just that this one speech in this one play led to such an important part of my life. An important part of me. And next month, when A and I go to Stratford, I will finally–finally–get to see it live. With a lady as Antony, too, so no weird transference of historical crush to actor is in danger of happening. Trust me, it’s happened before. I, like everyone else I know, watched Rome when it came out.

Anyway. This is it for me today. I’ll be back on Friday to pair the play.

C